24. About Wind

As sailors, we need wind to transport ourselves long distances. To do that comfortably though, we need it in the right amount and preferably from the right angle. The right amount for comfortable cruising spans somewhere between 8 and 20 knots, possibly 25 or even 30 knots if there are no serious gusts and it comes from behind. The right wind angles are generally from anywhere aft of the mast. A perfect combination would be around 15 knots from something like 160-170 degrees (0 degrees being right on the nose, 90 from the side and 180 from behind).

This perfect combination is what you can expect for a large part of an Atlantic crossing. Provided that you go west and at the right time of year. If you leave the Canary Islands in December you should have these conditions most of the time as there should be a high pressure over the Azores. Winds move clockwise around a high pressure in the northern hemisphere and this means that you should have north-easterly winds when you start. The winds should turn easterly when you get to somewhere around Cape Verde. So if you start heading south-west and turn west after a few days you should arrive in the Caribbean after a comfortable crossing. We know this from over 500 years of Atlantic crossings, the first 400 or so with boats that can only sail with winds from behind. The age old routing advice is ‘go south until the butter melts’. The you turn west.

I am writing this as I am strapped to a mooring in Favignana. An island off the west coast of Sicily. Truly a paradise. But the wind conditions are far from perfect for a sailor. In the past month or so I have experienced winds in excess of 20 knots most of the time and with constant changes in wind direction. In Mondello, on the north coast of Sicily, I was anchored in over 50 knots of wind with an inexperienced crew. Sustained winds, even in excess of 30 knots, are generally OK. The problem is constant changes in wind direction and the fact that most islands in the Mediterranean are very high and produce katabatic winds. This basically means gusts that slide down a mountain side and lands where you would otherwise expect to find the best shelter, on the leeward side of a large wind breaker.

Saoirse’s movement on anchor in Mondello during a storm. The only time we dragged anchor was when the winds suddenly increased at 6 am. It reset 30 meters further south. Over 50 meters of chain in 5 meters depth though!

My experience is that, in the Mediterranean summer, a sailor should generally have almost no wind. Every couple of weeks though, you should get three really windy days. Either from the north or from the south. Where I am they call these northerlies Mistral and the southerlies Scirocco. In other parts of the Mediterranean they have names like Meltemi, Bora and Khamsin. In the last week I have had a Mistral followed by a Scirocco and another Mistral. All with sustained winds between 20 and 30 knots and gusts adding another 10 knots. I should add that a Scirocco sometimes has the very annoying habit of dumping half of Sahara over your boat. Sand that ends up everywhere.

I guess what I am saying though, is that I am really looking forward to Atlantic sailing conditions with trade winds and ocean waves.

Wind predictions for tonight. Not too bad. With 27 degrees at 3 am though you know you have a Scirocco and that you are close to Africa.

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